I spent the weekend reading books off my own shelves, bouncing back and forth between High Wages by Dorothy Whipple and The Harold Nicolson Diaries: 1907-1964. While High Wages was undoubtedly my most successful Whipple encounter to date, the diaries were what delighted me most. I had enjoyed what I had read of Nicolson’s diaries and letters in the past (he shows up frequently in history books focused on wartime Britain) so was looking forward to this but enjoyed it even more than I had expected to.
I plan to write more about this wonderful book soon but for now I just wanted to share a snippet that I found charming and which reminded me of A.A. Milne’s wonderful “Margery” pieces from his Punch days. It is a letter written by Harold Nicolson to his infant grandchild, Juliet Nicolson, shortly after her christening (July 31, 1954):
Now that you have been admitted into the Church and had a paragraph all to yourself in the Daily Telegraph, you should be able, if not to read, then at least take in, private letters.
I thought it noble of you to remain quiescent while your godfather and godmother promised such glum things on your behalf. But I did not think it noble of you to sneak when I gave you a silver spoon and you went and bashed your own eye and forehead with it. It is foolish, in any case, to bash oneself with spoons. But it is evil for a girl about to be blessed by a bishop to sneak about her grandfather. You did not see the look your mother gave me. You did not realise the deep suspicion with which your nurse thereafter regarded me. (What an ass that woman was, flattering you like that; and how weak of you to respond with a grin to her blandishments.)
And will you tell your mother that I really believe that you will have large eyes as lovely as she has and a character as sweet as hers, and that I really will not spoil you when you reach the age of 2, since I detest spoiled children. And even if I do spoil you, I shall do so surreptitiously in order to avoid a look from her like the spoon-look.
Wouldn’t you love to have a grandfather who could write such letters? The importance of and thankfulness for a close-knit family is something Nicolson mentions throughout his life, whether he is thinking about his relationship with his parents, with his wife (Vita Sackville-West), or with his two sons and, eventually, their children. It was so nice to read an interview with Juliet Nicolson and hear how fondly she remembers him.